The Indiana Pacers have clinched the Eastern Conference’s final playoff berth but won’t move up from eighth place. The Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, are likely satisfied to be stuck in their spot in the standings.
Having secured the No. 5 seed, the visiting Hawks hope to build momentum for the postseason with a 10th consecutive win over the Pacers on Friday night.
Atlanta has dropped back-to-back games after winning four in a row, but the Hawks (44-34) are four games ahead of sixth-place New York with four to play, and they’ve clinched the tiebreaker with a better conference record.
With the fifth seed, the Hawks will avoid a first-round matchup with one of the East’s division winners and instead head to Orlando.
“Our approach has to be to gain some momentum heading into the playoffs,” coach Larry Drew said. “For us, it’s very important that we play these last four with a sense of urgency.”
Drew would like to see more defensive performances like his team showed during its recent win streak. The Hawks allowed an average of 83.8 points during those four victories, but they’ve given up at least 97 in each of their past two games.
They allowed 31 points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 97-90 home loss to San Antonio.
“I thought they broke us down time and time again,” Drew said.
The Pacers, meanwhile, have won four of five and are coming off one of their best offensive performances of the season, a 136-112 home win over Washington on Wednesday.
Indiana (36-43) shot 59.5 percent, sparked in part by rookie swingman Paul George’s(notes) season-high 23 points. The win, combined with Charlotte’s overtime loss to Orlando, secured the Pacers’ first postseason berth since 2006.
“I’m just really, really happy for a lot of people,” interim coach Frank Vogel said. “I’m so happy for our fans. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
The Pacers were 10 games under .500 when Vogel took over for Jim O’Brien on Jan. 30 but are 19-16 during his tenure.
“It’s a credit to Frank and his staff,” leading scorer Danny Granger(notes) said. “Granted, we still have some problems, and we had some problems along the way, but with the time they had to rehaul the team and do things differently, I think they did a great job.”
Granger, averaging 20.4 points, scored 22 on Nov. 16 the last time the Hawks visited Conseco Fieldhouse, but it was not enough in a 102-92 loss. Atlanta prevailed in part because of Josh Smith’s(notes) 25 points, but the forward may miss Friday’s game because of swelling in his right knee.
Smith’s potential absence could hurt Atlanta’s chances of extending its nine-game win streak over Indiana as he’s averaged a team-best 24.3 points against the Pacers this season.
Drew said he plans to give his starters a little more rest before the postseason, and there’s little reason to rush Smith back into the lineup.
“I’ll definitely look to cut the minutes for some of the starters, but we certainly still want to go out and try to win these four games,” Drew said.
The Hawks, who last lost to Indiana on Nov. 18, 2008, are seeking their fourth consecutive win at Conseco Fieldhouse.